The coronavirus pandemic rattled our supply chains, putting them under intense pressure and forcing many to become aware of these complex systems that bring us food, medicine and other goods. Was 2020 a wake-up call to rethink supply chains? Or have they proved more robust than we feared and should continue as business as usual? In February, we ask whether today’s supply chains are due for reconfiguration. We speak to Dr Tessa Avermaete, a bioeconomist at KU Leuven in Belgium, about why short and local is not always better – or more sustainable – when it comes to food supply. We look at how medical supply chains can be maintained or even set up during a crisis situation, and at the environmental and social impacts of Europe’s supply chains on the rest of the world. And we look at how, in the future, goods from food to furniture could be transported according to new concept called the ‘physical internet’, where logistics mimics how information travels through the internet.
Medical suppliers must change how they manage their supply chains, and factories need to be able to rapidly pivot to manufacturing different products, in order to respond quickly to the next major crisis and avoid shortages of vital medical goods, experts say.
Shipping goods from furniture to food could be transformed by a new transport network called the ‘physical internet.’ It is built on similar principles to the internet, which revolutionised the way information flows around the word, including open access and global interconnectedness. Researchers hope to make it a reality by 2040, when a fully autonomous network should be in place.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic upended international trade. Countries shut their borders, breaking the webs of supply chains that crisscross the globe. These systems of people, organisations and companies work to supply consumers with products, such as mobile phones, or services, like transportation. While some supply chains have since returned to a semblance of normality, understanding their extent – and how they interact – may be vital if humanity wants to confront its other great challenge: climate change.
Fears over supermarket shortages during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic led many people to buy their food from local producers, raising the prospect of a transformation in the way people get their food in the future. But while eating locally and shorter supply chains are often viewed as a more sustainable alternative to our global food system, the reality is much more complicated, explains Dr Tessa Avermaete, a bioeconomist at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.
How do you design and build a robot that you can’t even see? And what would you use it for? In May, Horizon explores the developing field of nanorobotics and its potential applications. We speak to Prof. Brad Nelson at ETH Zurich in Switzerland whose team found that the nanobots they were working on destroyed the drugs they were meant to be delivering, so are now repurposing them to purify water. We speak to researchers who are using the origami-like properties of DNA to make tools such as nanorobotic boxes with lids that open, and others that have created a molecular robotic arm that can pick up, reposition and release molecules. And because tasks like going into a blood vessel to dissolve a dangerous clot would be ideal for a nanorobot, we find out how scientists are devising ways to enable nanorobots to travel through the bloodstream.
The asteroids in our solar system are the remnants of planetary formation. They hold clues about how the Milky Way formed, but they also hold promise and peril for humans as the source of both rich materials and potentially dangerous cratering events. This month we look at the latest in asteroid research. We speak to Dr Naomi Murdoch, a planetary scientist, about her work investigating asteroids, how to land on them and how to defend Earth from a dangerous event. We look in depth at how scientists in the field of planetary defence are developing rapid response techniques to detect an Earth-bound ‘imminent impactor’, determine within days whether it’s dangerous, and evacuate people from the danger zone. We speak to scientists studying exactly what asteroids are composed of so that we can categorise them from Earth, and we look at work studying asteroid dust to see what it can tell us about the early days of our solar system and the origins of life on our planet.
Farmed fish are increasingly becoming vegetarian, with plant-based feed now widely used in Europe. Researchers now want to optimise feed to promote fish growth and nutrition. To do this, they are studying fish gut bacteria and the impact of probiotic additives as well as testing nutrient supplements.
To find out, scientists are investigating fish gut bacteria and feed nutrients.
Meteorologist Jadranka Šepić is working to decipher waves that can destroy in minutes.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.